Paris Saint-Germain: Champions of France!
By S. Willis
When you've won the title three years in a row, how do you go one better? You win it earlier in the season than anyone ever has - and that's exactly what PSG did as they clinched the Ligue 1 title with a 3-0 win in Troyes on Sunday.
Last season's unprecedented domestic quadruple - the Ligue 1, Coupe de la Ligue, Coupe de France and Trophée des Champions titles - was a high-water mark in French football. But this season Laurent Blanc's men have shown that there are always other ways to impress, displaying the remarkable consistency that saw them set a European record by clinching the league crown with eight matches left to play.
Despite winning comfortably last season, Laurent Blanc's squad - riddled with World-Cup weary internationals - took some time to get moving, but this time around, in August 2015, the capital club hit the ground running. After claiming the Trophée des Champions with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Montreal, PSG notched their first opening day win - 1-0 in Lille - in five seasons and never looked back.
Monaco, Marseille, Saint-Etienne, Nice and Lyon all fell as Zlatan Ibrahimovic powered to the top of the scorers charts, rocketing to the top of Paris Saint-Germain's all-time scorers chart, and new recruit Angel Di María provided that extra touch of quality going forward that yielded much more than his personal - and impressive - statistics for goals scored and provided would indicate.
The arrival of the Argentine international - voted Man of the Match as he won the Champions League with Real Madrid in 2014 - locked in the capital club's winning mentality and saw them head to Doha for a mid-season training camp with a hefty 19-point advantage.
With his established players - Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi among them - firing, coach Laurent Blanc consistently mixed in new blood - Adrien Rabiot, Serge Aurier, Layvin Kurzawa to name a few - to excellent effect in the first half of the season, leaving him with plenty of options as the season took a turn for the hectic as cup competition kicked in in January.
Well prepared, Blanc's squad stepped up and won all eight of their January dates, and while their tilt at finishing the season undefeated - a feat never achieved in French football - came unstuck with the 2-1 loss in Lyon in Week 28, it did leave the legacy of an unprecedented 36-match undefeated run in Ligue 1.
Paris Saint-Germain might have followed up the Lyon loss with a scoreless draw at home to Montpellier, but the fact that a much-changed line-up were held at home just days before the capital club pulled out a superb performance to win past Chelsea and into the Champions League quarter-finals for a French record fourth season in a row didn't produce too many grey hairs in Paris.
And when it came to the crowning moment of PSG's season, on Sunday afternoon in Troyes, Blanc's men once again went to work on the record books, clinching the biggest win of the Qatari era - 9-0! What's more, it was PSG's 13th away win of the season - another Ligue 1 recford!
Ibrahimovic's quadruple - with all four goals scored in the second half - saw him move to 102 Ligue 1 goals in 115 appearances as the capital club beat Lyon's 2006-07 record of wining the title with five matches left to play. In fact, while they were at it, PSG also set a European speed record, their winning with eight matches left eclipsing Pep Guardiola's Bayern from season 2013-14, who did the same with seven matches left.
The title is the sixth French crown in the capital club's history, moving them to sixth place on the all-time list of Ligue 1 winners - and its fourth in a row, a dominant stat that only Marseille, Saint-Etienne and Lyon can also claim.
More to come?
And the season is far from over - PSG are still in the running in three competitions - the final of the coupe de la Ligue (against Lille on April 23), the semi-finals of the Coupe de France (against Lorient on April 19) and the Champions League quarter-finals (to be drawn on Friday, March 18) - and Laurent Blanc's men can still add even more gloss to what has unequivocally been a glittering season in France's top flight.